In December, NCX completed our third commercial-scale harvest deferral supplier auction. Landowners across the continental United States bid to reduce their annual timber harvests and, in doing so, committed to growing older, more carbon-rich forests across the landscape. In this 2022 Winter auction, almost 1,800 unique landowners went under contract to defer the harvest of over 20 million tons of timber in the next year. This is the large-scale, immediate climate impact made possible by smart incentives and better data.
The Natural Capital Exchange (NCX) forest carbon program launched one year ago, with its first and second auctions bringing over 2.2 million acres managed by nearly 700 landowners into carbon markets. From ‘day 1’, NCX has aimed to measure and value all of the benefits that forests provide to society–and helping landowners monetize their forest carbon is the starting point.
Having introduced the program first in 11 southeastern states, then subsequently expanded to include several more in the Lake States and Appalachian regions, the 2022 Winter auction was the first to welcome landowner participation across the entire contiguous 48 states. All told, forest landowners from across 39 states had their NCX bids accepted in this auction, going under legal agreement to defer timber harvest on their properties and deliver an expected climate impact of several hundred thousand tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, or tCO2e. And for the first time, carbon buyer preferences led to variation in the price paid to forest landowners according to their location, with a base price of $8 per Harvest Deferral Credit (HDC) being paid across a large majority of participants, and select participants in the Mid-Atlantic region earning a modest premium. (As a reminder, an HDC, or Harvest Deferral Credit, is an NCX-specific unit of measure for reduced harvesting activity. It is not equivalent to a ‘permanent ton’ carbon credit, so their prices should not be directly compared.) See below for a fuller explanation of why and how the geographic variation worked.
Reminder: How does NCX work again?
NCX pays landowners to defer timber harvest on their properties in 1-year cycles, with a new cycle kicking off every three months. The 1-year program beginning on January 1st of this year is the Winter 2022 cycle; the cycles that began in April and July of 2021 are known as Spring 2021 and Summer 2021, respectively.
Throughout the second half of 2021, landowners expressed their interest in the Winter 2022 cycle by signing up to our free landowner platform, confidentially sharing their property boundaries, and receiving an assessment of the carbon potential on their property. (If you haven’t already signed up to our free landowner platform, please do so today! The Spring 2022 cycle is open now, and there’s lots of educational content, too.)
By early December it was time to bid in the procurement auction: almost 2,300 landowners expressed the prices at which they were willing to defer timber harvest on their property by submitting a bid. Just before the holidays, NCX ‘cleared’ the market, anonymizing all landowner bids, assessing their characteristics such as geographic location and landowner size, and then accepting the bids that provided the quantity needed for our existing and pipeline customers.
Why the price varied across regions
If you’ve been around NCX much, you’ll have heard us tout the benefits of auctions. Back in the Spring 2021 recap, we laid out three crucial benefits that our auctions achieve: they ensure society’s climate dollars are being spent where they have the most impact; they ensure equity for landowners; and they sort through the complexity of buyer preferences.
You may be wondering: what does it look like, in practice, for an auction to reflect carbon buyer preferences? NCX’s Winter 2022 cycle provides an example: some of our buyers conveyed a preference for and willingness to pay higher prices for carbon credits sourced from landowners in the Mid-Atlantic region. This means that accepted landowners this cycle in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania will receive a price of $9 per Harvest Deferral Credit (+$1 over the base price); and accepted landowners in Delaware specifically will receive a price of $15 per HDC (+$7 over the base price).
This is an exciting development for all landowners–not just those in the Mid-Atlantic. This demonstrates that when buyers are given the opportunity to have real, transparent impact on the land and livelihoods in the very same region where their employees live, or where their operations sit– they’re willing to pay a premium. NCX can deliver that impact and, in doing so, earn the most value for forest landowners.
Base price trends
In line with the price guidance we issued during the fourth quarter of 2021, this cycle saw a decrease in the base price of $8/HDC from its Summer 2022 price of $12/HDC. The primary driver of the price decrease is best captured in an excerpt from that guidance:
“[The lowered price guidance] is because there’s been an increase in the amount of harvest deferral that NCX and its third-party verifiers anticipate being required to generate each certified carbon credit. This means that at the carbon credit prices that buyers are currently willing to pay, the amount that can be paid to procure harvest deferral from landowners, represented by Harvest Deferral Credits, is correspondingly lower. The volume of demand for NCX-generated carbon credits has remained strong; however, the change in the amount of harvest deferral required to create a carbon credit is impacting the market clearing price for this NCX cycle.”
NCX maintains our belief that as the pace of decarbonization picks up globally, the prices that can be paid for real, verified carbon storage in forests will continue to rise. Landowners participating in the NCX program will continue to have the option, year over year, to make the best decision for themselves and their families, and won’t find themselves locked into a suboptimal carbon contract over long time periods.
Detailed results and cycle comparison
Relative to prior cycles, participation in the Winter 2022 cycle tilted even more toward small- and medium-size landowners, both in terms of the share of participants (i.e. by number) and the share of contracted harvest deferral.
|Spring 2021||Summer 2021||Winter 2022|
|Number of accepted participants||Share of contracted harvest deferral||Number of accepted participants||Share of contracted harvest deferral||Number of accepted participants||Share of contracted harvest deferral|
|Small (<750 acres total area)||60||4.2%||338||58.6%||1,274||46.5%|
|Medium (750-5,000 acres)||32||10.9%||162||28.1%||430||42.5%|
|Large (>5,000 acres total area)||27||84.9%||77||13.3%||75||11.0%|
¹Figures may not sum due to rounding.
NCX also completed its rollout across the contiguous 48 states, and deepened participation in those states that had launched for the first time in 2021 Summer:
|NCX Region||State||Share of that cycle’s participating acres|
|Spring 2021||Summer 2021||Winter 2022|
²Figures may not sum due to rounding.
A deeper look at geographic expansion
The 2022 Winter cycle was the first to welcome landowner participation across the entire contiguous 48 states, and NCX attracted significant new acreage in both our existing and new regions. Of particular note is that the New England region, in this, its first NCX cycle, contributed the largest amount of new participating acres of any region across the country. Over 220,000 acres from New England alone are now actively deferring some portion of their harvest to grow older, more carbon-rich forests.
NCX is gratified to be simultaneously connecting with landowners in new regions of the country, and also deepening relationships where we’ve been operating for some time. It demonstrates that the NCX forest carbon program appeals to landowners across different forestry, market, and landholding contexts, and also helps validate our view that technology and data-driven solutions are required to achieve national and international scale. These new regions are fantastic learning opportunities for NCX as well, allowing us to continuously improve–whether our data, our messaging, our understanding of landowners’ economics, or our methods for collaborating with local partners.
To fully leverage the climate benefits of forests, NCX endeavors to create carbon markets large enough and flexible enough to work for every forest landowner. From Washington and Oregon to Michigan, Maine, and Florida, US forests have massive potential. As NCX deepens its presence across the US, we’ll continue sharing information about who’s participating, where, and what they’re being paid, in a bid to make our program as transparent and approachable as possible. We hope you find it to be the same, and if you haven’t already, please join us!